slow down: what is restorative yoga?

‘’Enter the bowl of vastness that is the heart.
Listen to the song that is always resonating.
Give yourself to it with total abandon.
Quiet ecstasy is here- 
And a steady, regal sense
Of resting in a perfect spot.’’ 

{ The Radiance Sutras, verse 26 }

I love to move. My love for moving became my passion creatively, artistically, and professionally as I pursued a career in dance. I feel present, at home, and alive when I am in motion, but recently I have fallen in love with being still. Specifically, I have become a strong believer in the gifts of restorative yoga and actively practicing being still.

 Unlike most yoga classes, where you are actively moving and flowing in and out of postures, a restorative practice involves a lot of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps, chairs, and pillows), and with the support of the props you settle in to rest in a posture, staying for anything from a couple of minutes to 10-20 minutes. By doing this, you allow your muscles to release effort and your nervous system to switch to parasympathetic dominance, which is your body’s rest and digest mode. 

On a subtle and energetic level what happens in restorative yoga is also profound. You get to experience what in Sanskrit is called Pratyahara, the reversing of the direction of the senses. In daily life, our senses are directed outwardly to take in information in order to engage and participate in the world around us, whereas in yoga the senses are drawn to the world within us in order to get in touch with our true nature- peace.

Peace may not be the first thing you experience when you close your eyes in your first restorative posture. Most likely the chatter of your mind will be overwhelming, but this doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, or that anything is wrong with you. Rather, it just means you are a human being with a human mind, AND that you probably needed this.

Because the remarkable thing that happens, is that if you allow your mind to be, not holding on to any thoughts, nor pushing any thoughts away, your thoughts will quiet down.

Like a snow globe that has been shaken and then set down, the snow flakes will flurry around for a while, but slowly and surely, they will float down to the bottom, and whatever they were floating around a moment ago will be clearer to see. This is the same process that happens in meditation, and each restorative posture invites us into a meditative state, to give us a glimpse, a taste of what’s beneath the mind.

What drew me to yoga initially was how it could help me become a better dancer by making me physically stronger, more flexible, and improve my balance. But once I truly dove into the practice, I realized that those benefits I had been drawn to were only side effects of much deeper work- the work of truly getting to know myself.

The yoga teacher Erich Schiffmann describes yoga as ‘’moving into stillness to experience the truth of who you are,’’ and that is what I realize is happening in my personal practice. I started out being almost obsessed with staying in motion, sweating, physically challenging myself, but now, while I still love being in flow, I try to deliberately prioritize becoming still. 

Practicing restorative yoga gently invites me into softness, into to the inquiry, into to the mystery of my Self, and the beauty is, that it does so in a way that leaves me feeling nourished, relaxed, and rejuvenated afterwards. So now I both love to move, and to be in one place.

- Marie

Jianna Hoss